In Cambridge’s Kettle’s Yard Gallery, she is isolated and leaning on a piano Prometheus, a marble head made by Constantin Brâncusi and the only piece of art that Eddie Redmayne (London, 1982) would save from possible massive destruction. He tells me as he leaves the filming set of the third installment of Fantastic animals in the first days of an autumn that, we intuit, we will never forget. It begins to get dark as the actor nods seriously: “I promise to do my best in this interview.”
Eddie Redmayne made himself in the theater despite some voices warning him that he could not survive in it. “Many people took it upon themselves to tell me that it would never work, that only extraordinary cases achieve it and that I could not make a living from this professionally.” Even his father came home one day with a list of statistics on unemployed young actors. Redmayne, who is extremely modest, polite and funny, adds: “But I enjoyed theater so much that I got to the point of thinking that if I could only do one play a year for the rest of my life… I would do it. And that would fill me completely.
Spoiler: since then until today he has participated in many more. He put his first foot in the industry when he debuted at Shakespeare’s Globe Theater and won over critics and audiences. Then he landed his first major role in My week with Marilyn with Michelle Williams. And then came one of the roles of his life, the character he wanted to become an actor for, Marius. With him he sang, led a revolution and broke Cosette’s heart in The Miserables. “I found out about the auditions for The Miserables when I was shooting a movie in Illinois. Dressed like a cowboy. I picked up the iPhone and videotaped myself singing the Marius song. I always wanted to be him ”.
Now Redmayne is an Oscar winner – thanks to his portrayal of Stephen Hawking in The theory of everything– and the protagonist of one of the most important sagas in history, Fantastic animals. In it he plays the magizoologist Newt Scamander. When I ask him what it means to him to be the protagonist of a magical world that is so important to millions of people, Eddie sighs and takes a few seconds to answer. “I have always loved the Harry Potter universe. Some people like The Lord of the rings O Star Wars… But, for me, the idea that there is a magical world that happens right in front of you, that happens without going any further in the streets of London, that … That exploded my imagination in another way ”.
During the quarantine, JK Rowling, who has been in charge of the script of the film, sparked a controversy through a series of tweets about transgender women. Redmayne assures that it does not agree with these statements but that it does not approve of the attacks of some people through social networks. The actor was one of the first to take a stand against Rowling alongside Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and other protagonists of his films. “Trans women are women, trans men are men, and non-binary identities are valid.”
After having spent a while talking, Redmayne confesses to me that he has never been a great dreamer not to maintain certain aspirations that ended up disappointing him. So he has always kept a handful of dreams to himself. One of them was fulfilled just a few weeks ago with the premiere of The Chicago 7 trial a film written and directed by Aaron Sorkin that can already be seen on Netflix and in some – few – cinemas. “I was on vacation with my wife in Morocco and the script arrived. I think I called my agent before I even read it and said yes, I would. She probably thought the obvious, that I’m stupid. After that, of course I read the script, which is about a specific moment in history that I knew very little about. I found it exciting and a very relevant drama in today’s times. “
And it is that having a script by Aaron Sorkin in your hands is no small thing. Eddie Redmayne has been an admirer of his work since he saw The West Wing of the White House. “His scripts have delicious language and dialogue. As an actor, it’s fun to play characters that are much smarter than you are in real life. That virtuosity is hard to come by. I really hope audiences enjoy this movie and feel that there is always hope. ” Remember that since it premiered The theory of everything has largely recorded English period dramas, “and while Aaron Sorkin’s new thing is not strictly contemporary,” notes Redmayne, “being able to wear jeans and shirts and jumpers instead of so much tweed it’s great”.
Besides acting, art was the only thing the actor was interested in, so he ended up studying Art History at Cambridge University. “My parents are quite traditional and when I told them I wanted to act they gave me a free hand but on the condition that I study a career. And I’m very grateful for that because … Look, beyond that, when I play a real character I usually go to the National Portrait Gallery in London quite often. There I lock myself up. Now, for the Sorkin film, I went through a lot of photographs and videotapes. Art helps me to be more creative, to get into the role ”. If he were not an actor, he would be, he says decidedly, a historian or perhaps a curator. “Although I think he would be a very bad art curator.”
Against all logic, Eddie Redmayne is color blind. But there is a color that you can distinguish anywhere and on any surface: klein blue. He wrote his thesis on the French artist Yves Klein and the only shade of blue he used in his works. He wrote up to 30,000 words talking about that color with which he became obsessed. “It is surprising that a color can be so emotional. One can only hope to achieve that intensity in acting. “
Like her taste for art, which encompasses the refined and compact, Redmayne seems to be in the same balance when it comes to the roles she chooses. When I ask him what aspects a character he wants to play should have, he takes a few seconds again before answering: “I wish I had a more ingenious answer but I will tell you that I know when my belly hurts. It’s that feeling that I trust. In my mind I transport him to imagine myself playing that character. When I read a script I have to really enjoy it. You never fully regret those instincts. It’s like when you connect with something emotionally.
So we come to the conclusion that all his characters have some traits in common. “You know what? I never look back, and this is personal, but I do think there is a parallel between Marius in The Miserables trying to be a revolutionary, someone who is quite prone to being distracted by love but at the same time willing to die for their cause, and Tom Hayden, of The Chicago 7 trial that he was a man who had integrity and was passionate and fought for the things he believed in. So I suppose there may also be similarities between a young Stephen Hawking and Newt Scamander. There are traits in common in all of them that I don’t really know where they come from ”.
When we talk about the year we are living in, in which it is increasingly difficult to find hope, we both let out a nervous laugh. “There must be,” Redmayne says. “There is something very nice that Tom Hayden, the character I play in Sorkin’s film, said to his former wife, actress Jane Fonda, just the day before she passed away. He told her that watching people die for their beliefs changed his life forever. In that sense, I also think about what Kennedy Jr. wrote about how democracy is messy, hard, and never easy … As is believing in something to fight for. I look at history and how they were willing to live their lives with that integrity to change the world and I realize that somehow that spirit still remains with us. ” We fell silent thinking about it. “There must be hope.”
I tell him about my love for Nick Cave’s blog, The Red Hand, and one of the entries that I have liked the most in recent weeks. In it, the singer affirms that his response to a crisis has always been to create, an impulse that has saved him many times. For Redmayne there are two activities that can silence noise: drawing and playing the piano. “When you play the piano your concentration is so consumed by trying to hit that note that you can’t think of anything else. Similarly, when you draw something, the focus between the paper and what you are trying to recreate … There I try to calm my mind.
Before saying goodbye, I ask him a question whose answer I thought I knew, but failed. What work of art would you save from mass destruction? “How difficult! I could name my favorite artists but I still couldn’t choose a work. Only one piece? Let me think. I am very obsessed with Yves Klein, but I would stick with a work by Brâncusi. There is a sculpture of him, a little head called Prometheus, in Cambridge’s Kettle’s Yard, on a dark mahogany piano. The truth is that I find it very … beautiful ”.
Before leaving, he confesses to me –with a childish and slow voice– that he would like to direct something one day. We said goodbye, staying where we would talk about his next project. Next, the first thing I do is open the Google search engine. “Prometheus”. Although Eddie Redmayne has trouble distinguishing violet from blue, he does not have them when choosing a good piece. He’s right, that work deserves to be saved.
Makeup and hairdressing: Petra Sellege (The Wall Group) · Photography Assistant: Stuart Harper · Styling assistants: Blanca Hidalgo and Caterina Ospina · Production: Airín Milá · Video editing: Blanca Cortés
* This article appears in the November 2020 issue of Esquire magazine
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